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Every Famous Rock Star Who Appeared in Miami Vice

For a brief but totally rad period in the 1980s, there was nothing on TV that could hold a candle to Miami Vice.

Drawing heavily upon 80s New Wave culture, the title sequence let you know right off the bat that you were in for something extraordinary.

Miami Vice’s opening credits were fresh, stylish, and featured an awesome synth-pop score from esteemed composer and musician Jan Hammer.

After the intro, audiences were treated to a show that was highly stylized, skillfully written, and flawlessly cast. The series featured a pair of impossibly cool yet often troubled detectives – Rico Tubbs and Sonny Crockett – played respectively by Philip Michael Thomas and Don Johnson.

The pair would often be seen chasing drug dealers around town, rocking T-Shirts and Armani sports jackets while driving Ferarri’s and speedboats. Everything this spirited duo of detectives encountered was beautiful and seedy, crookedly comedic, and at the same time highfalutin.

The series ran for five seasons from 1984 to 1989 on NBC. While the show’s rich yet unrealistic plot and character relationships were two of the it’s key features, it was also noted for it’s integration of contemporary pop and rock music which fit in perfectly with it’s stylized visuals.

Throughout it’s run, numerous musical guest stars passed through the series’ set. Rockstar musical stars included the likes of Ted Nugent, Gene Simmons, and even Willie Nelson – to name a few. Keep watching to learn about all of the other chart-topping musical guests who popped up on the iconic crime drama.

Little Richard – “Out Where The Buses Don’t Run”

In this fan-favorite episode, Little Richard played a minor role as a preacher who was every bit as energetic, eccentric, and off-the-wall as was.

In real life, the performer broke away from the budding rock ‘n roll scene in the 1950s to join the church as a born-again Christian. In his Miami Vice appearance, Little Richard’s character, Reverend Marvelle Quinn, preached an anti-drug message and sent his disciples out to spread the good word on the street’s of Miami’s South Beach.

Glenn Frey – “Smuggler’s Blues”

This episode drew inspiration from Frey’s hit 1984 song of the same title. When it came time to film the episode, Frey was asked to join the cast for a guest spot, thus kicking off a trend of musicians guest stars that would remain a vital part of the show’s heart and soul throughout it’s run.

In the episode in question, Frey played a charismatic yet disheveled pilot named Jimmy, who joined Tubbs and Crocket on a covert undercover mission. Frey later wrote one of his biggest career solo hits, ‘You Belong to the City’, for the show.

Phil Collins – “Phill the Shill”

Phil’s appearance on Miami Vice was one of the series’ stand-out moments. Several of Collins’ songs like I Don’t Care Anymore, In The Air Tonight, and Take Me Home, were featured in the program in earlier episodes, but in this installment, he showed up on screen as a scumbag conman posing as a game show host.

Another thing that made the episode so memorable was the fact that it featured an original song, Life is a Rat Race, which Collin’s wrote specifically to coincide with his appearance. Although, if you compare the track with Genesis’ The Man With The Horn, you’ll find that they’re essentially the same song.

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Frank Zappa – “Payback”

Zappa, love him or hate him, was known for many things. The guy was a very talented dude who certainly knew his way around a recording studio. He could pick up and play just about any instrument, was a decent artist, and a poet who could paint some rather beautiful, albeit surreal, wordscapes. While he could do many things, acting was never something people really associated with him. That’s why it was surprising when his funny-looking mug ended up on Miami Vice.

Despite his lack of acting experience, Zappa gave a convincing performance as an intimidatingly unrelenting character that was hell-bent on recovering a large chunk of money that had gone missing.

Leonard Cohen – “French Twist”

The renowned “Hallelujah” singer-songwriter was convinced to take a guest spot on Miami Vice by his son. At first, the idea was for Cohen to play the episode’s main villain, but his part was cut to just two brief phone conversations that totaled a little under a minute of screen time.

As the story goes, Miami Vice’s casting director called the musician up one day after shooting his first scene and told him that he had given a ‘fantastic’ and ‘truly wonderful’ performance. Cohen, being the perceptive devil that he was, knew what was coming and said “You mean I’m fired, right?”

The director then confirmed his suspicions, explaining that Cohen’s scenes had indeed been cut and that the role was given to another actor instead.

Miles Davis – “Junk Love”

When jazz legend Mile Davis appeared on Miami Vice, he was experiencing the height of his commercial success. While Davis was known by some as being the ‘Prince of Darkness’, when he showed up in this 1986 as a brothel owner named Ivory Jones, he fully cooperated with the detectives to help track down the baddie that they had their sights on.

Gene Simmons – “The Prodigal Son”

In this episode Crockett and Tubbs traveled to the Big Apple to take down a violent and powerful Colombian cartel.

Simmons played Newton Windsor Blade, a character that described as ‘the Sears-Roebuck of controlled substances.’

Even though he wasn’t donning his signature KISS makeup and getup – trading in his trademark look for an all-white silk suit – the bassist looked like he was in his element as a rich-boy drug slinger surrounded by half-naked women.

Simmon’s character helped Crockett and Tubbs by hooking them up with a contact in New York that ended up coming in handy when taking down the cartel.

Ted Nugent – “Definitely Miami”

Nugent played a gun-wielding psycho named Charlie Bassett in this memorable season two episode.

Bassett was a killer whose smoking-hot wife tried to seduce Crockett in an attempt at luring him into a compromising situation. At the climax of the episode, there’s this big showdown at a rock quarry in the middle of nowhere. It’s during this sequence that Nugent’s character got gunned down, thus meeting the brutal end that he deserved.

The episode featured Nugent’s 1986 song “Angry Young Man” which appeared on his Little Miss Dangers LP. The show would later use the title track from that album in an episode sharing the same name.

Sheena Easton – ‘Like A Hurricane’, ‘The Rising Sun of Death’, ‘Love at First Sight’, ‘Deliver Us From Evil’, ‘Rock and a Hard Place’.

Pop superstar Sheena Easton was initially brought in for a bit part but ended up sticking around for a total of five episodes.

She played a character who was a singer named Caitlin Davies who married Don Johnson’s character. Back then, getting a chance to hook up with Johnson was the epitome of ‘dream come true’ for women everywhere.

Following a classic TV trope, the two got together after Crocket was assigned to protect her as a witness. So much for not mixing business and pleasure, right?

Wilie Nelson – “El Viejo”

Nelson was probably the most experienced musician-turned-actor to appear on Miami Vice. Throughout his career, Willie’s racked up over 40 acting credits.

In this episode, Nelson played a grizzled renegade Texas Ranger named Jake ‘El Viejo’ Pierson, who interrupted a Bolivian drug deal that the detectives were staking out by showing up out of nowhere and making off with the money. At the end of the episode, El Viejo helps Crockett and Tubbs to take down the Bolivian drug lord but ended up losing his life in a shootout.

James Brown – “Missing Hours”

What do you get when you combine a government conspiracy, the paranormal, and one of the hardest working men in show business? James’s Brown’s bizzare guest-appearance on Miami Vice is what!

The legendary soul musician portrayed an estranged spokesman for a sketchy organization that’s dedicated to documenting close encounters of the first, third, and third kind. The episode breaks form by diving headfirst into the supernatural in such a way that it makes you wonder if the writers were on something at the time.

While the episode is a bit abnormal compared to Miami Vice’s typical fair, it’s arguably one the series’ best.

Barbara Streisand – “Badge Of Dishonor”

Babs made an uncredited ‘blink and you miss it’ walk-by cameo appearance in a scene where Tubbs and Crockett pull up to a yacht owned by a suspected criminal who happens to be a crooked cop The scene was filmed at the Bayside shopping center and marina in Miami.

At the time, Streisand and Don Johnson were dating. The two’s relationship was plastered all over the gossip rags, and they even appeared on the cover of People magazine together.

Barbara and Don later collaborated on the title track of Streisand’s 1988 album ‘Till I Loved You’, but by the time the album hit records stores, they had already split up.

David Johansen – ‘The Dutch Oven’

Best known for being the leader of the hugely influential punk band The New York Dolls, Johansen had already embarked on a solo career by the time that he showed up on Miami Vice.

Johansen made his appearance performing his song ‘King of Babylon’ in a party scene aboard a yacht that involved copious quantities of illicit substances. The charismatic rocker’s swagger was seen in full force as he danced across the vessel’s deck.

Other musically gifted stars who made appearances on Miami Vice include Michael De Barres, Issac Hayes, Harry Shearer, The Power Station, and The Pointer Sisters.

Did you know that Willie Nelson died in a gunfight in his Miami Vice guest spot, and that Barbara’s Streisand’s cameo was uncredited? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section down below.

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